by Joddie Taylor, NOW Intern
As 1995 drew to a close, more than $50 million in funding for key programs to end violence against women were caught up in the budget whirlpool swirling in Congress.
"We let House and Senate conferees know these programs are desperately needed, effective and important to their constituents," said NOW's Executive Vice President Kim Gandy, "so important that they should not simply split the difference in funding levels between their versions of the appropriations bills for 1996." As this issue went to press, NOW action hotline volunteers were generating calls to conferees stressing the need for full 1996 funding for the new Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Each year's funding for programs included in VAWA, the historic 1994 law, are split between two appropriations bills -- the Commerce/Justice/State appropriations bill and the Labor/Health and Human Services/Education appropriations bill. The House C/J/S bill allocates only $125 million of the $176.7 million authorized for fiscal year 1996.
The Senate version's only cuts funding back to $175 million, after $75 million was restored thanks in large part to Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del. However, both the Senate and House versions dropped funding for judicial education.
Fully funded, VAWA strengthens law enforcement, provides more effective support services -- including shelters and hotlines -- and supports previously unavailable research.
The judicial education grants cut from both bills represent less than one percent of its total funding, $1.3 million. The grants help train federal, state and tribal court personnel by providing them with information about domestic violence, model legal procedures and the impact of stereotyping.
The judicial training grants are also in jeopardy due to related attacks by conservatives on studies of race and gender bias by federal and state judicial task forces. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, lead the charge, calling the studies "ill-conceived, deeply flawed and divisive."
At least 60 different reports on race and gender fairness have been issued by these federal and state task forces, finding "patterns of unfairness" to women and people of color persist, according to NOW's Legal Defense and Education Fund. NOW/LDEF also says many of the reports' findings have been implemented, one reason why they have been endorsed by leading judicial and legal groups.
Two startling events clearly demonstrate the need for judicial training.
"Full VAWA funding is essential," said Gandy. "Settling for anything less is another blow to domestic violence survivors and women in jeopardy now."